Every morning, the fine folks at Sports Radio Interviews sift through the a.m. drive-time chatter to bring you the best interviews with coaches, players, and personalities across the sports landscape. Today: Matt Paknis also says Jerry Sandusky was "like the Pied Piper, there were always kids around."
Matt Paknis (who writes more on his blog here), a former Graduate Assistant under Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky in the late 1980′s, joined WFAN in New York to talk about his connection with Paterno, Sandusky and the Penn State program, what his relationship with Sandusky was like during his time as a graduate assistant in the late 1980s, if he remembers seeing or being suspicious of Sandusky behaving inappropriately around kids, how much contact he had with Paterno as a GA, his assessment of Paterno and Sandusky's relationship back then, why he thinks there's no way that a man as all-knowing and powerful as Paterno could have possibly not known about Sandusky being investigated on sexual abuse against minors allegations, Paterno and the PSU program's image being fraudulent and more a product of media spin rather than true integrity, an example being how Paterno refused to play a black quarterback because the program ‘wasn't ready', being a victim of sexual abuse as a child himself, how that experience growing up as affected his reaction to this story, and why he personally believes that Paterno's involvement in protecting his own image and the brand of the program is similar to how he'd manage and attend to other matters in the years he served as a GA under Paterno.
On what his connection and back-story with Penn State is:
"I was a coach that applied for that job in '86. I had actually applied two or three years in a row, but I had coached two years after graduating from Brown, and then I went down and I was awarded the position there. I was the first kid on the staff, and the youngest kid on the staff where I was the only opening that year, so the other four GAs were coming back for their second years. And we were the reigning national champs, and Joe was the Sportsman of the Year at the time."
What his relationship with Sandusky was like:
"Yeah, it was a cordial relationship. I was obviously on the other side of the ball - I was an offensive line coach and he was a defensive coordinator and a linebackers coach. And like I said in the blog, he was always pleasant to me from a distance, and he would also what I felt with my own personal background, I always felt he was always a bit too touchy and grabby with the kids. I just knew, but as a coach, you're not supposed to touch kids. We had all those kids up there for camps in the summer. I just felt it was a boundary issue more than anything."
Does he remember seeing Sandusky around kids during their time together on the PSU staff:
"From what I remember, he was always kind of like the Pied Piper. There were always kids around."
How much contact did he have with Paterno during his time as a graduate assistant there:
"Very little. Ironically our names…my name ends with a ‘PA' and his name ends with a ‘PA', so our lockers were right next to one another. So there was some sidelines communications and whatever, but you've got to remember, I was the lowest of the low man on the totem pole."
What exactly did a grad assistant do at that time:
"Four to five films for each game, on the field responsible for the tackles, leading all the look squad in the practice, the defensive look squad going against the offense, so in charge of those guys. So it was a pretty engaging process."
On what he can share about Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky's relationship during his time at Penn State:
"This is bizarre and I don't want to sound sensationalist, but there was a unique dynamic there that I could never really put my finger on. But you talked to my friends and my roommates, and I've been claiming this since I was there, I said there was just something really strange there. I never went to school there, I didn't play for Joe - we actually played against them when I was a junior. But Jerry would actually come up to me sometimes and say ‘I hate that guy.' And I was like ‘where's that coming from.' But I never really bought into it; I always just kind of blew it off. And I didn't know where it was coming from, so I just thought I don't want to get involved with that and mind my own business."
Could there have possibly been an extensive preliminary report about allegations concerning Sandusky without Paterno knowing about it:
"Impossible, impossible. Joe knows everything, Joe knows everything - everything that goes on at that campus, everything that goes on clearly in the football program. They actually called him….because I had some friends that were in graduate school when Joe was there, they might have been GAs, one of the guys I coached with early in my life Dave Pagneti, he said they called Joe ‘The Rat', and that's been confirmed by other guys that have played there because he would go to Rip Engle and say ‘that guy drank a beer, that guy missed a class, he would never address the guys directly. So that was always his M.O. He would always have the leverage, but he would never address the guys, he would go to Rip and use that leverage."
If Paterno and the program was as squeaky clean and dignified as the public perceives:
"Well Mike, three things stick out in my mind from my experience from what I can remember, it was a long time ago. One is I grew up in a mixed neighborhood in New Jersey, and my first friend was African American, and I was in a staff meeting one time and we were having some problems at quarterback with Kisner, and someone recommended what about Darren Roberts? He was an All State quarterback from New Jersey. And Coach just said we're not ready for a black quarterback. And we had Ron Dickerson in the room who was an assistant, and he just went ballistic which I always thought was pretty cool that he stood up to Joe. But Randall Cunningham was the starting quarterback at the time for the Eagles. But Darren never got a chance for us; I don't know why, but that was stated in the room. So clearly that's one incident where if any manager in corporate America said that, they'd be gone the next day. Another time, just the academic adviser coming over shaking his head and saying ‘it's happening again.' Coach would pull guys and make sure they were going to practice rather than going to class and he'd say ‘he can't take that class, it's during practice.' So pretty much all the stuff that they projected was controlled spin."
Did he think that Sandusky's retirement in 1999 was the result of Paterno telling him that there's no way he could be head coach because of the likelihood that news would break of his wrongdoings:
"I think there was a mutual agreement that he was just going to retire. He just said ‘well, if I'm not getting the head coaching job, I'm out of here.'"
Is it possible that Paterno could have tried to cover this up:
"Absolutely. I mean, fights, behavior problems anything like that never reached the local paper. It was a controlled environment. There's no question. You've been out there, right?"
So he has no trouble believing that Paterno would have tried to cover up Sandusky's alleged crimes:
"Yeah, it's like the [Bernie] Madoff thing. Not only did he cover it up, but there's no way that this wasn't apparent. Like I said, when I was there I'm like going 100 miles per hour going to class, going to practice, just all that stuff - I noticed that he had kids around and it kind of bothered me the way he was pinching them and all that stuff, but other than that, I didn't see anything like that. But to live there, to be there and be part of the process, it's very hard for me to think that they didn't know."
Is it correct that he himself was sexually abused as a child:
"I'm a survivor of childhood sexual abuse over a three-year period."
Who was the perpetrator:
"It was a neighbor. My mother was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma in her lymph nodes when I was eight years old, and so she went in for drastic radical surgery. The family was in crisis and the neighbor feigned interest in me, and it was a grooming process just like this."
If his experiences of abuse made him feel inclined to speak up:
"I'm tired of this. I'm tired of these guys just putting up this scam. And when I read that, I was just like the reason that I got into coaching was I wanted to help in the way that my coach in Madison, New Jersey, Ted Monica, helped me. It just had a tremendous influence on all of our lives in turning this around, and for me in particular, coming off fro what I had as a kid, that was the one thing I wanted to do. So if these guys were actually destroying lives using that same vehicle - football - I can't describe to you what it did to me. And I just said ‘that's enough.' With my personal stuff I'm a very private person. I just got off the phone with my best friend and he didn't know."
Does it all add up now about Sandusky when thinking back about him then after hearing the allegations brought against him today:
"Yeah they do, they do. Just the way he set up that not for profit, he was like a fox in a hen house. And you've got to remember, these kids were vulnerable, they didn't have any dads, they didn't have the financial support. So he knew they didn't have anywhere to turn. It's just about the most evil thing I've ever seen."
If he'd say that Paterno was more interested in protecting his own name and the brand of the program over doing what was right:
"There's no question, I wrote in my blog that when he had the opportunity to really demonstrate true integrity and character, he turned and protected himself. And that was his M.O. He used to turn and protect himself by turning to Rip; he was always protected. So instead of going out and helping an eight-year old kid or a ten-year old kid that was being sodomized by his key assistant, he just dropped the ball. And that's inexcusable. Inexcusable."
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